Eat, Sleep, Curl
Calgary, March 17th - In the moments just before the 2021 Scotties women’s curling final began, Val Sweeting glanced up and saw her family waving. The sight of them made her heart smile.
It’s a common habit – an athlete scans the crowd to find their most beloved supporters – and catching a glimpse of them offers a brief but poignant reminder that they are loved.
Except this time, they weren’t in the stands. The stands were empty and silent, and Sweeting’s family was on a big screen.
Despite the unreality of the moment, where her family was 2-D instead of 3-D, seeing them live still meant the world to Sweeting and offered a hint of normalcy in an environment that has been anything but normal over the last few weeks.
Sweeting, who plays third for Team Einarson from Manitoba, likens the experience of being in the curling bubble as ‘eat, sleep, curl’. “The first few days in quarantine were tough but once competition started everything was fine,” she says.
In fact, for Sweeting, it was the time leading up to entering the bubble that was the hard part.
Coming off a season where she finally won the Scotties with Team Einarson, after a string of heartbreaking losses as skip for Team Alberta, Sweeting had to grapple with losing the opportunity to play as Team Canada at the world championships due the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was carrying around a lot of baggage,” remembers Sweeting. “I had to take steps to deal with that.” To that end, Sweeting leaned on specialists and books to help her dive into the work she had to do to get into a better place mentally.
Having that self-awareness is key to helping athletes adapt to challenging situations says Clare Fewster, CSI Calgary Mental Performance Consultant and Canadian Certified Counselor. “In general, the pandemic has challenged our well-being, and more for some than others,” explains Fewster. “For that reason, the bubble could be more difficult for some than others.”
Fewster, who is available for mental health support to curlers throughout the duration of bubble, says that the biggest piece is being able to anticipate the situation and then build a toolbox and resources to manage the situation successfully.
“Like any practice in building self-awareness, what can you do?” asks Fewster. “Work at understanding your thoughts, emotions, behaviours and triggers. Talk to others who are in it and have done it.”
Sweeting says she brought her own food and prepared yoga and TRX workouts in her room during the quarantine period, and also connected frequently with her family online and relaxed by watching TV or reading. “Small hotel spaces can be difficult. Simple things like moving furniture around or opening the window for fresh air can be helpful strategies,” says Fewster.
“Athletes are resilient humans in general,” says Fewster, but adds, “Everyone has lived a different COVID life and experienced different impacts.” The heightened stress of bubble protocols and new situations could trigger some with mental health issues she says. This highlights the need to prepare more in advance and utilize available mental health supports.
The hard work Sweeting put into preparing for the season in the bubble was fruitful. “By the time I got into the bubble I had come to terms with everything,” she says. Having a clear mind helped propel Sweeting and Team Einarson to a second straight Scotties victory and earned them another chance to play as Team Canada at the upcoming World Championships.
“It’s all about adapting and rolling with it,” says Sweeting. “Just take a deep breath and keep moving on.”
The Canadian Mixed Doubles Championships begins this Thursday, March 18th. https://www.curling.ca/2021mixeddoubles/
To learn more about the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary, visit www.csicalgary.ca
Written by: Kristina Groves Photo by: Dave Holland